Review: Yard Act’s Debut Album “The Overload”
Before pressing play for the first time on Yard Act’s debut album overload, you may be forgiven for wondering if it was about to be more or less the same. As post-punk continues to rise, it’s hard not to compare Leeds’ outfit to other bands who’ve been there and done this. Fountains DC and Idles are examples of two groups in a long list of artists who have managed to bring the genre closer to the avant-garde of the scene. What these bands have done is fantastic and should be applauded, and many may be hoping that Yard Act can do something like they should help post-punk and indie causes. Don’t get me wrong though, Yard Act isn’t Idles; it’s not DC Fountains, it’s something else.
Overload is packed full of interesting themes and concepts that unfold via the voice of lead singer James Smith. The unmistakable Leeds accent, mostly featured in the spoken word, is backed by Ryan Needham on bass guitar, Jay Russell on drums and Sam Shipstone on lead guitar. Considering the band is less than two years old, it’s fair to say they’re incredibly tight with a distinctive sound that usually only comes after years of playing together. This is perhaps a product of the fact that Smith and Needham had previously been part of the excellent Post War Glamor Girls and Menace Beach respectively; experiences that surely helped them refine Overload.
The first track and album title introduce us to the band perfectly, an incredible combination of high-energy music supporting a thoughtful dismantling of the current state of the country. Smith stars as a drunk man loudly expressing his thoughts on various things, usually saying things like “kids these days think they’ve been tough, but they’ve never even looked at an iron lung” so that the group pokes fun at the generational divide that has developed over the past decade. The more serious points are beautifully punctuated by moments of comedy and irony not often found in albums like this.
Yard Act aren’t afraid to show their teeth on dead horse in which they offer their views on the fallout from Brexit in an explicit, uncensored and unapologetic critique of the situation the country finds itself in. Commenting on the fake news, racism and stupidity the band says has taken over the country, Smith sings, “I’m not afraid of people who don’t look like me, unlike you.” The furious message is perfectly complemented by the backdrop of a funky guitar riff and creepy bassline.
Witness and payday offer something of a more classic punk rock feel than the rest of the album and execute them perfectly with a fantastic high energy feel with Smith choosing to sing a bit more than on the other tracks. The result is two solid punk rock songs, however payday features more of Smith’s signature angry spoken words and a flute solo to close the song that makes it stand out.
One of the various characters that Smith plays is the man who recently made money on Rich. This track and the one that follows are a perfect example of what Yard Act does so well on the album; a brooding bassline that scolds the listener and an ominous synth crescendo surrounding lyrics about getting rich and losing control of themselves.
The next song The Incident follows a similar plan as Smith expertly critiques rising desperation for relevance in society and an increasingly futile clamor to be rich. Smith again plays a successful man who stares down the barrel of insignificance. Backed by another catchy, almost playful bassline and thumping guitar, the song is a post-punk dream and one of the best on the album.
Musically the album is superb, Jay Russell’s drumming is fantastic throughout and doesn’t overpower the rest of the music, but rather compliments every riff and bass line perfectly. This is featured most on land of the blind which is a fantastic combination of funky bass riffs and guitar work that the band clearly stated as their trademark over the course of the album.
large poppies sums up the band perfectly in six minutes, the longest track on the album has Smith describing the life of an average man from childhood to death. The song describes the minutiae of everyday life and the boredom most of us have to endure with an almost cheerful piece of music behind it. As with the rest of the songs on the album, the comedy is a fantastic outlet for the band as Smith shows some self-awareness by singing after the character’s death “he wasn’t too fond of long songs with a lot of words .”
Overload did exactly what it set out to do, Smith and his bandmates made their point explicit on several important issues and did it while making great music. If the album is complacent, and it is, it’s because the band has faith in themselves, the music they make is good, and the things they have to say are important. This confidence is not misplaced, this album is superb and there is nothing wrong with having fun.